LONDON, March 26 (Reuters) - Britain missed an opportunity to join an EU procurement scheme for medical equipment to fight coronavirus, including ventilators to help patients breathe, because of an email mix up, the government said on Thursday, adding it may take part in future schemes.
Like many other countries facing an overwhelming wave of coronavirus cases, Britain is scrambling to source thousands of ventilators as the pandemic reaches it peak.
"Owing to an initial communication problem, the UK did not receive an invitation in time to join in four joint procurements in response to the coronavirus pandemic," a government spokesman said in a statement. The European Commission had now confirmed to Britain it was eligible for the schemes, the spokesman said.
He added: "As those four initial procurement schemes had already gone out to tender, we were unable to take part in these but we will consider participating in future procurement schemes on the basis of public health requirements at the time."
Earlier on Thursday, the leader of the opposition Liberal Democrats party had criticised Prime Minister Boris Johnson for seemingly refusing to participate in the European Union ventilator procurement programme.
Last month, the EU's executive arm launched a joint procurement process on behalf of 25 of the 27 EU states to acquire the protective equipment, demand for which has increased exponentially since the start of the outbreak.
Britain left the EU at the end of January, enacting a 2016 public vote that was followed by over three years of acrimonious divorce negotiations.
The British government has placed an emergency order of 10,000 ventilators designed at breakneck speed by bagless vacuum cleaner company Dyson, the first fruits of an industry-wide call to arms. (Reporting by William James, writing by Alistair Smout; editing by Stephen Addison)
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